In 2013, Ms. Martin invited Tyrel Ventura, who is the son of Jesse Ventura, the former pro wrestler and Reform Party governor of Minnesota, as a guest on her show. He had a YouTube talk show, on which he often spoke out against war and was skeptical of mainstream media. After his guest appearance, he said, Mr. Solodovnikov said he liked what he had heard. He also told Mr. Ventura, who is lean with a clean-shaven head, that he had a good TV look, Mr. Ventura said.
Mr. Ventura was soon recruited to bring his online show, “Watching the Hawks,” hosted with Mr. Stone, to RT America.
Around the same time, Mr. Solodovnikov got a huge break. In May 2013, RT America signed a deal with Larry King’s Ora TV to distribute shows by Mr. King and eventually other personalities, including William Shatner and Dennis Miller. Some of the programs would be created out of RT America’s Washington office. Suddenly, the network had household names on its roster. Ora Media’s chief executive, John Dickey, declined to disclose the value of the contract.
Soon, RT America faced a major public test. In February 2014, Russia invaded and soon annexed the Ukrainian territory of Crimea, then stepped up its aggression and backed separatists who attacked Ukrainian forces in the country’s Donbas region.
RT America generally portrayed the events differently from American news outlets. A former anchor, Liz Wahl, said her news director had told her not to use the word “invasion” and to refer to Russian soldiers as “peacekeepers.”
The network removed a question she had posed to Ron Paul, the former Texas representative and presidential candidate, about how the United States should respond to Russia. She recoiled, she said, as she watched a correspondent refer to Ukrainian forces as having “neo-Nazi elements.” On March 5, 2014, Ms. Wahl resigned on the air in protest.
“RT is not about the truth,” she said later in an interview with CNN. “It’s about promoting a Putinist agenda, and I can tell you firsthand, it’s about bashing America.”